What is the difference between mainstream and independent films?

What is the difference between mainstream and independent films? 

Every industry has two sides, with independent and mainstream films being two sides of the film industry. Understanding the difference between independent films and mainstream media helps you gain a deeper insight into the industry and is crucial for anyone looking to start a film career. While the two may fall under the same kind of art form, they couldn’t be more different from each other. The following points will highlight the differences between independent and mainstream movies.

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What is Mainstream Film?  

If you are wondering about the mainstream movie’s meaning, it is defined as those movies produced by big production houses. They are usually screened at cinema houses for a limited time and have comprehensive marketing strategies to facilitate their success.  

  • Budget: The budget for mainstream movies is usually very high and can be over a million dollars. It may be elaborately planned and divided into multiple sections, including pre-production, production (Making of the film), post-production, and marketing. One or more producers are responsible for funding these projects and may even have exclusive A-listed movie stars acting in them.  
  • Distribution: Mainstream films do not have to think about distribution deals too much. They are usually picked up by cinemas and distribution sites easily. Because of their association with big names, reputations, and, most importantly, the actors, these films are usually self-sufficient in distribution. At times mainstream movies may even have a dedicated team that approaches cinemas and distributors to promote the film. The actor is also a significant contributor to the kind of audience and fans the film attracts.  
  • Process of Filmmaking: Apart from the budget, this is one of the most prominent differences between independent films and mainstream movies. Directors of mainstream films have the luxury of constructing detailed sets, travelling around the globe, and finding the exact setting in which the shot needs to be taken. They usually try to find the least expensive alternative that helps them tell their story.  
  • Marketing: Mainstream movie usually has a multi-million-dollar marketing budget that helps them make their way onto billboards, TV and YouTube Commercials, social media, and any other form of publicity they can find.  

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Mainstream Film Examples 

The mainstream movie list is vast and may include most of your favourite movies:  

  • Sholay 
  • Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge 
  • 3 Idiots  
  • Hum Aapke Hai Koun..! 
  • Kuch Kuch Hota Hai 
  • PK 
  • Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai 
  • Dangal 
  • Dil To Pagal Hai 
  • Rangeela  
  • Dil Chahta Hai 
  • Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India 

And many, many more. 

What is meant by an independent film? 

Independent films are made outside the leading film industry; they are less prevalent than mainstream films and are often produced by emerging filmmakers. Although these films may not have the big names connected to them, they still aim to get the same kind of distribution. Let us also see how independent films differ from mainstream films. 

  • Budget: Independent films usually have lower budgets and may avail of different types of funding during their production. Multiple small production houses may work together to produce the movie and even help with professional expertise. Different art organizations and film institutes support many independent film producers; some may even have the support of television networks. An independent filmmaker may even use crowdfunding or online donation sites to raise more money for their film.  
  • Distribution: Independent films do not get the same kind of release as mainstream films. However, these films are usually entered into local, regional, and international film festivals to increase their reach. Many theatres also welcome independent films; however, their runs are generally smaller than mainstream movies. The moviegoers and fans who watch these movies are also fewer as the actors are not often known and are unfamiliar with creating revenue.  
  • Process of Filmmaking: Where most mainstream films have elaborate sets and exotic on-location shoots, independent films are often shot in the same place, with just a few shots taken elsewhere. This is mainly due to the lower budgets and the need for independent filmmakers to make the best of what they have. The actors in these films are also usually friends of the directors, who may often work for free.  
  • Marketing: Most independent films are promoted with the help of film festivals, word-of-mouth, reviews, and critics. They may have little or no marketing budget compared to the millions mainstream movie spends on marketing.  

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Independent Film Examples 

Most independent filmmakers work hard to provide their audience with a great cinematic experience. These films repeatedly appear at the top of most international film festivals. Here is a quick look at some of the best independent films in India.  

  • Manto 
  • Maa 
  • Tungrus 
  • Daas Dev 
  • Rajma Chawal  
  • Bhor: Dawn 
  • Buddha.mov 
  • Love, Sonia 
  • Unreserved 
  • Village Rockstars 

While the main difference between independent films and mainstream film is the money spent, both films are hugely popular in India. Independent films are made because of the director’s love and passion for cinema, and these films can often do wonders at film festivals and draw huge audiences. Whether you want to be a mainstream filmmaker or display your passion in the form of independent films, Seamedu Media School has filmmaking and editing courses that can help get you on the right track for your future.

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Written by: Aashay Gatade

Last updated: 17-04-2024

Aashay Gatade is a film editor with over 10 years of professional experience. He has worked on feature films, short films, web series, TVCs etc. These include commercial success as well as critical acclaim. Also he has been teaching film making for more than 3 years.

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